Male-Female Parity: A Result of Changing Industry Balance?

June 6th, 2013 by 

Let it be known - we here at DQYDJ listen to the demands of our commenters!

Our recent theme has been the changing face of the American workforce, especially with regards to males and females in the workforce.  This is a very important and timely topic. Women have surpassed men in degrees earned at all levels, single women make more money than single males (especially in urban areas), and even in marriages women now contribute 47% of the family income.  We've come a long way since the 1950s!

All the Data on Changing Employment Trends

And what's the major industry driver of the male-female dynamic?  Well, our friend Suba nailed it in the comments section of our Monday piece: the decline in manufacturing employment over the last 50 years.  We found some old data that backs this up - even in the 1970 - 1980 decade, the percentage of manufacturing employees who were female only changed from 4.9% to 8.0%.

Suffice to say, manufacturing became less male-dominated even as the share of employees in manufacturing declined overall.  Note: this decline in manufacturing was incredibly fast... We mocked up all the Major Industry data from 1965 until 2010 and put it into Highcharts.  This is an interactive javascript chart, so if you're reading this in email or an RSS reader:

Click Through To View the Interactive Data

Here's the data source for that chart (BLS).

There you go - the trend is quite obvious graphically, no need for me to hang a lampshade on it... but here goes: 27.3% of the workforce was employed in manufacturing in 1965, or 16,617,000 people. In 2010, only 11,528,000 people worked in manufacturing, not only now a single digit percentage (8.9% of the workforce), but quite literally less than the number employed in Manufacturing in 1965.

As we now have a much larger workforce (1965 - 55,659,000 people, versus 131,359,000 in 2010), what replaced the void left by Manufacturing? 3 service related industries - Professional and Business Services, Education and Health Services, and Leisure and Hospitality.

Notice anything interesting about those three? Yep, you're right.  Service has traditionally been female-dominated; our trusty 1982 document put the numbers at roughly 61% female in both 1970 and 1980.  The BLS has a wonderful graph showing female employment from 1964 through 2010 (PDF, page 11).  The biggest gains?  Well, it's no secret - services... along with trade, transportation and utilities, and government.

What About Construction?

One common factor blamed for the decline in men in the workforce has been construction.  Our last few articles have pointed out that the last few recessions (roughly spanning the time covered in our graph here) have been much harder on men than women.  That trend has gone on for a long time - but since our most recent Recession, it seemed fitting to blame it for the male drop.

We actually suspected that this argument was more hype than substance.  Even though construction has certainly experienced a decline, we did a piece last year with our friend ADP about Construction's contribution to GDP (and seeing if it was useful for bubble-spotting!  Our answer?  Yeah, maybe... but we need more resolution, and reliable data.).

All that said, construction has actually been pretty steady... both as a percentage of GDP, and with the number of people actually employed in the field.  You can see this visually in the above chart, but note that we actually have 2.3 million more people working in construction (at least in 2010 - although I suspect this has raised a bit) than in 1965.  Even then, it was a relatively minor part of the economy - at least compared to Manufacturing.  That BLS article (the PDF linked above, page 10) proves how incredible the game change was: even though it was male dominated, more females were employed in Manufacturing than any other industry.  Yeah, the numbers are probably off in one of those documents - but consider how big the base you were starting from used to be.  (Also of interest?  There are more Republicans in California than any other state.  Check the math!)

 And Now What?!?

We do like to close these pieces with a bit of reasoned hypothesizing, extrapolation, guessing, tea leaf reading and crystal ball gazing (ordered from most to least scientific!).  Considering our archives are now a few weeks more than 4 years deep, I'm sure an astute reader could go back and pin some silly guesses on us - but we won't let that scare us off!

Here's our prediction for industry in the near future: more automation, which will (of course) cut even deeper in manufacturing.  Remember, as we've pointed out many times in the past - automation is making inroads into many fields.  Service industries in general might become more robotic - from the hated robotic call center, to more ticket kiosks and self-checkout. STEM isn't immune - look at the rise of the computer aided proof in mathematics, or the general bootstrapping in Engineering (my field).

As the recently famous optimistic Wired article points out, however - disruption alone won't kill the number of jobs available.  Just like pushing on an inflating balloon, jobs will appear elsewhere.

I mean - some people make a living blogging today.  Try explaining that to people on the Oregon Trail... am I right?



PK started DQYDJ in 2009 to research and discuss finance and investing and help answer financial questions. He's expanded DQYDJ to build visualizations, calculators, and interactive tools.

PK is in his mid-30s and works and lives in the Bay Area with his wife, two kids, and dog.

Don't Quit Your Day Job...

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